As I head on down the highway from the deepest darkest depths of the Midlands to Stansted Airport at some ungodly hour of the day, there’s a heavy mist in the air. With a large coffee in my lap and some rousing tunes on in the background to try to revive me from my slumbersome state, I take the heavy fog as a sign of the air of mystery, mystique, romanticism and wonderment that’s sure to greet me when I finally arrive back on Tilburg’s hallowed streets for Roadburn 2015; my second, and can you believe it, their twentieth,. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of my journey to that small, pleasant student town in the south of the Netherlands but meanwhile I can safely assure you that Ryanair are still a bunch of hopeless fuckwits.
I arrive still early in the day on Wednesday 8th, checking in for the first time into the new venture that is the Stadscamping Urban Campsite – a regular campsite also equipped with temporary chalet constructions or “flexhotels”. They’re a bit like sheds, lifted off flatbed trucks. They’re damn cosy sheds though, well, they better had be, as they’re my home for the week! I’m greeted with the sort of kindness, enthusiasm and passion only akin to welcoming home a member of their own family by campsite organisers Erik and Bridget and their team of amazing volunteers. These are folk who’ve given up their day-to-days for a long weekend to accommodate and look after Roadburners from lands afar, simply as a service to the city’s thriving cultural integrity. My hearty thanks go out to this team and their faultless hospitality. Nonetheless, as I arrive the campsite is still physically under construction and so I choose to head into town to quaff a few Leffes and watch the day go by in the glorious sunshine, rather than watch several Dutch people build bins from oil drums.
In the evening I head to Korte Heuvel, aka Weirdo Canyon, for the first time to meet up with Shaman Lee (my photographer for the weekend), Paul Robertson (my roommate for the weekend) and JJ Koczan (sole force behind theobelisk.net and all-round killer dude). I’m covering the Hardrock Hideout, the pre-festival show at the Cul de Sac bar for the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, Roadburn’s one and only official ‘Zine, sublimely co-ordinated by JJ and Lee themselves, on a voluntary basis solely for the benefit and enjoyment of the festivalgoers. It’s an honour to be involved for me. Without wanting to go into too much detail (you can read my full review HERE in the ‘Zine itself) the night is a success with metal thrashing badasses Bark and Prematory, both from just across the border in Belgium, making heads a-bang and fists a-pump to an ample crowd of around 100 people. A jolly good warm up indeed for a scintillating few days at the 20th annual Roadburn Festival.
After a solid first night’s sleep in my luxury shed and a huge hearty breakfast complete with a heavy psyche and doom accompaniment courtesy of the Stadscamp’s resident breakfast DJ, it’s time to head back to Weirdo Canyon to sample a cheeky beverage and to meet and greet friends from across the global scene. The sun is already settling in and Day1 promises to be a gloriously warm affair.
The first stop of the fest is over at the Het Patronaat and with Bell Witch. A gathering throng of festival goers start as they mean to go on with one of the heaviest, slowest acts of the weekend in the darkened church hall. Drummer Adrian Guerra’s mountain-rattling thunder makes the entire festival site quake as his titanic joint vocals with bassist Dylan Desmond seep between beautifully melodic passages and caverns of purely destructive percussion. The material from new album Four Phantoms, like the waterfall that destroys the forest on the cover art, is simply crushing in a mesmerising and haunting way all at once. The Seattle pair’s overall approach hasn’t swayed from 2012’s Longing record, which was in itself a sublime collection of soul-cleansing washes of funeral grandeur. But the newer material is somehow even harder hitting and features some more metallic moments whilst the true expressions of the duo’s ferocious power are less subtle than on the debut.
I then hot-foot it over to see The Tower in The Green Room and although I only catch the last two songs, I’m suitably impressed that I travelled over. Vocalist Erik is so tripped out from half a sets’ worth of frolics by the time we arrive that he’s collapsed on the floor in a pile of dreamy psyche. The Swedish quartet’s overgrown manes of hair and spacey Swedish guitargasms float by like a flower-power Witchcraft by way of Dead Meadow and The Heads, upwind of some seriously impressive bursts of drumming from tub-thumper Tommie. A small but eagerly enthused crowd lap up their waves of inter-galactic madness like buffalo at an oasis. So far, so so good!
There’s an awful lot of whispers going around the bars about Salt Lake City’s SubRosa this weekend, but I have to admit, they’re a completely new entity to me. Fifteen minutes before they’re due up at Het Patronaat however, the venue is completely rammed to capacity in anticipation. Despite a slow start, they do everything to avoid disappointment with a polished and heavy as all balls performance. How they have passed me by is beyond my reasoning as their combination of gigantic doom riffs and duelling violins is a force to be reckoned with. With an overtly occult look, three fronting females in elaborate dressware and a hefty classical string influence, theirs is a new breed of majestic, yet devastating power. I know what you’re thinking when you read the word “violins”, but I can assure you that this ain’t no poncy art-folk-hipster malarkey, this is full-bloodied menace and guile as the additional strings add a delicate additional few layers to their atmospheric bombast. I really don’t want to pigeonhole these guys but imagine Yob playing a set of Sleep covers with Taz and Hel from Undersmile on vocals with a backing orchestra and you might get somewhere close. It’s always a pleasant surprise to make a new find at a festival; this really is beautiful stuff and the venue is head over heels in love.
Many have waited half a lifetime for Floor to get back on the wagon and over to Europe for the very first time and with the sexified new Oblation album melting brains and faces across the planet last year, it’s not hard to see why. Without so much as a shrug and a four-tap, Brooks–Vialon–Wilson lock straight into Scimitar and it’s as if they’ve never been away. That distorted-to-all-fuckery, dual-riffing groove topped with Steve’s so-sickly-they-could-be-a-Werther’s-Original vocals is simply unmistakable, even with the obvious parallels to the enigmatic frontman’s “other” band Torche. The Florida trio couldn’t give two sweet shits though and groove along to their own amped-up velocity with all the comfort of a Top40 pop band. It’s not all niceties, these veterans know how to drop a heavy riff or a thousand and the set increases in intensity as the minutes pass. Culling a setlist virtually entirely from the self-titled debut album and the airier Oblation itself, it’s hard to not allow them to lift your spirits away from the gloom that is home, work, life and worry. Looking at the lack of head-nodding though, it’s perhaps questionable as to why Floor were not permitted to start a little later in the day to let the alcohol and anticipation linger longer. Tight, song-heavy and good value for money with very little by way of banter from Brooks, Floor kill it just as hard as they ever did.
There’s also the matter of band-overlap, or stage-cannibalisation, as the Floor crowd noticeably thins out. It’s no surprise then that the Green Room is at capacity and resembles a sauna as I arrive to catch the middle portion of Primitive Man. Sweet raven’s claw! Those are some very big and very angry men! Surging between car-crushing hardcore and scalp-rippling shards of doom, they don’t so much own the stage as occupy its very integrity. With a barrage of bile off brand new 12” Home Is Where the Hatred Is on show, it’s not hard to see why their filthy menace is peaking in popularity right now. Yes, primitive these Denver guys are but it’s simply intimidating too as their punishing brutality shows just how far down the rabbit hole tar-thick sludge can go.
Chicago’s Russian Circles may start their swirling, hypnotic and exclusively instrumental noise a little ahead of schedule, but the riff to Deficit kicks in bang on time. As ever, sole guitarist Mike Sullivan builds up his own looped layers of chugging riffage and post-metal ambience beautifully whilst bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz scythe through groove after groove behind him. Turncrantz is always a joy to watch for a man who plays a simple four-piece drumkit with all the power of Nicko McBrain, whilst Cook’s dual duty on bass and synthesisers holds the entire set together. As soon as they kick into their first monoriff, it’s clear that they’re still as heavy as a caged whale on Jupiter as the 013 bounces along in unison to the likes of the crunching Harper Lewis. Russian Circles have always made great records but when you put the best cuts from each together in a live setting, you have one of the finest atmospheric bands of this generation stood in front of you.
It’s a shame to leave Russian Circles before the end but we’re into major band clash territory now and Thou are calling me. For quite a while I didn’t realise that Baton Rouge was actually the name of the town this furious mob of riffsters and screamers hail from, I had only assumed that it was a suffixed metaphor for the bloodied stick they may or may not beat audiences around the head with. But even so it’s a scrotum-rumbling wall of bassy riffs that the quintet launch into, intent on causing severe head trauma of an entirely musical kind. It would be nice to not have the somewhat extended breaks between each song to keep things fluid but nonetheless, Thou‘s brand of morbid death-sludge is swallowed down whole by a sweaty, intense crowd. Despite playing some shorter, sharper bursts of action than I perhaps expected, they nonetheless get into their stride and flatten a path of unrighteousness in the Het Patronaat.
Few acts indeed on the entire bill could rock up in a Stetson and a pair of snakeskin boots, wiggle across the main hall and blow away the audience, but tonight that’s exactly what Wovenhand frontman David Eugene Edwards does within seconds of gracing the 013 main stage. Former 16 Horsepower mainman Edwards and his bands’ latest incarnation (Ordy Garrison on drums, Neil Keener on the bass and Chuck French on guitar and additional percussion) treat a packed out crowd to everything from tribal drumwork and psyche majestics, to alternative country jams and boogie-laden hard rock. The bastard offspring of Billy Gibbons, Iggy Pop, Dickie Peterson and Woody Harrelson, Edwards is the undisputed master of ceremonies, accompanying each track with a series of crazed hand gestures, synchronised struts and some simply delicious rhythms as Wovenhand lay down the groove to the Tilburg throngs. It’s heavy Jim, but somehow also biblical and sexy all at the same time… I’m so confused.
If Kyuss were the kings of the desert and Fu Manchu are the kings of the road then there’s surely no denial that EyeHateGod are the kings of the swamp. Weirdly, it’s my first time seeing the Louisiana lords and as the fivesome give each other that sly look and step forward into their opening staggers, the 013 is totally rammed. Hammering straight into two short punky numbers is an interesting opening gambit but as Mike IX Williams wryly grins “you fucking look good Roadburn!” and unleashes the sludge anthem that is New Orleans Is The New Vietnam and the monster wrecking ball of 30$ Bag, there’s no going back to civilisation in one piece for anyone in the room. Mike IX is arguably the perfect frontman: loud, deadpan, awkward and destructive, you easily believe everything he utters is true and then some. With a fitting “so long” tribute to late drummer Joey LaCaze, the only way to respond is to hit both parts of Sister Fucker as hard as possible. Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton are tight as all hell together on guitar and by the time Blank and Medicine Noose are bombshelled into proceedings, the thought comes over me that all these other bands trying to carry around the so-called “sludge” tag should just pack up and leave. Always a band to be taken as needed for pain, long live EyeHateGod.
That Bongripper play the first night of the 20th edition of Roadburn above Wovenhand, EyeHateGod, Floor and many others is testament to their stature and achievements in their far shorter tenure as a band. Their showcase tonight of latest LP Miserable from front to back, proves that the new album is a fine record, in my humble opinion, but it remains for many a tougher sell than the scene-busting Satan Worshipping Doom ever was. It requires you to really search deep into its bowels, and indeed inside yourself, to discover just how the beauty that lies inside a 60-minute doom monolith can really be so delicate. But it’s there. If you can’t see it, then try again. Trust me.
Live, the record’s performance is a stunning experience, a dissection of every giant riff as if each were a plate of nachos being slowly picked at in some hellishly empty diner. Endless Descent Into Ruin works for me as a metaphor on a great number of levels and it’s great to hear that bitchin opening riff from Endless broken down live to the n-th degree. Descent fairs a little worse off as the drum mix doesn’t feel right and the live amp sound doesn’t quite recreate Dennis Pleckham‘s always-perfect mix as on the record. Into Ruin however is a triumph. Utterly engaging, transformative and enveloping, it captures some new essences that even the Chicago fourpiece themselves didn’t quite locate on the disk. It is, as bassist Ron Petzke tells me later, “the best thing we ever wrote”.
The visual side of the endless descent into ruin is shown on the backdrop in the form of a rotated cycle of horizontal slices from the album artwork projected onto the big screen in sequence. Maybe no-one noticed or cared but I thought it was fucking cool, especially with such an extended portrait cover art piece by Mike Miller. G-ripping stuff all round and wow, what a way to begin the festival! I’m knackered with awe already!!
Kandodo Ft Robert Hampson
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions